WORDS GUY ALLEN
Someone I know has a T-shirt with a picture of her HZ Kingswood on it, with the legend on the back: “The country hasn’t been the same since they stopped making the Kingswood.” She has a point.
For many families, it was the last of the full-size chrome bumper cars – the Commodore simply didn’t cut the proverbial mustard for this group – that would grace their shed. And a Statesman, which was to carry on as the WB series for some years? Unthinkable. Too much car and money.
Of course Holden got as far as building a WB Kingswood (you can see it in the Birdwood museum in SA), but it never got past prototype stage.
So, for many the HZ has real significance. The shape isn’t as smooth and elegant as the original HQ, but had by now picked up some American influence with the squared-off panels in the nose and rear.
Anti-pollution controls were in full force, which did the engines and their performance no favours as the initial engineering response was fairly clumsy.
What more than made up for those deficiencies was the Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS) handling package. This was more than just a handy marketing logo, but a rethink on how this series was set up. Gone was the legendary understeer, replaced by a package that stacked up pretty well at the time and (with good bushes and suspension underneath) remains a fairly capable unit. Body roll was minimised and you were dealing with reasonably tenacious grip.
The story of this car is extraordinary. The Valencia Orange is a Holden colour but rarely seen on a Kingswood and current owner Paul Ford (gotta love the surname…) speculates that it may have been ordered as a dealer special to brighten up the showroom at Melville Motors in WA. It was reasonably well kitted out, in SL trim with front bucket seats, a 253 V8 in the nose and Trimatic transmission. In that trim it would have come standard with front discs and drum rears.
In any case it was built in September 1977 and was sold to the Perth Bible Institute (?!) in November that year. Paul swapped a cheque for the keys in 1980 and became the second owner. Over the years, and a couple of hundred thousand kays, he added some GTS bits, such as the wheels, dash and steering wheel. He figures they’re Holden parts and he likes the way it adds a bit of spice to the car’s appearance.
Con Raphael, the owner of the Falcon on these pages, is a mechanic who knows this era well and offered some advice on what look for if you’re in the market for an HZ. Rust is an issue in the panel ahead of the windscreen (particularly near the edges), behind the wheel arches and the dogleg panel on the rear, in the bottom of the doors if the drain holes haven’t been kept clear and in the boot. It sounds shocking, but is typical of local cars of the era.
Mechanically they’re very robust, regardless of whether you’re talking of the 202 six, or 253 or 308 V8s. The 308 is the pick and there’s a substantial difference between that and the 253 when it comes to performance. A 202 can be developed to perform well, while a 253 makes for a very nice cruiser. Something to keep in mind is that Trimatics have a mixed reputation – there’s a substantial difference between the units used on the 202 and 253 – and there are people out there who can make them bulletproof. As for the 308, it scored the Turbo 400 till 1979, when the switch was made to a Turbo 350. The latter was more efficient.
What’s it like to drive? “It’s a big, reliable smooth touring car,” says Paul. “I like to open the window and listen to the V8 instead of the radio.” They’re simple things to look after and have no problem handling modern traffic, and so they have a practical side as well as making the cut as a club car.
WORDS GUY ALLEN
Con Raphael, a mechanic who works with our workshop columnist Mick over at Glenlyon Motors, has a long and deep relationship with this car. His dad John bought it in 1980, when it was still a young machine. Con first got behind the wheel when he was getting his licence back in 1986.
That was when he discovered these ‘coke bottle’ Falcons could take a lot of abuse. Particularly when the parents weren’t watching. A car like this was a treasured object in many families. It represented a significant investment and was tactile proof the family was doing okay.
Con chuckles when he remembers visiting his father in hospital: “I walked in and it was, ‘How’s the car?’, and not, ‘How are you, Con?’!”
The car he was fretting over is a 1978 XC Falcon 500, first registered in October 1979. In many respects it’s a close competitor to the Kingswood we’ve shown here, in that it ran a near-four-litre engine (the 250 or 4.1 six, rather than an eight), a three-speed auto and bucket seats. There was one creature comfort added to this one: air-conditioning.
Ford, with its sixes at least, had had responded well to the incoming pollution regs by introducing crossflow heads with better breathing and significantly lifting the power. In reality a high-compression 4.1 litre Falcon six was likely to be quicker with straight line performance than the 4.2lt litre Kingswood V8. Where the Holden had an advantage was in the handling stakes, thanks to the adoption of RTS.
Ford’s response was significant, and this is an example of the update model (or ‘XC and-a-half’), which ran some chassis tweaks, including a rear sway bar. The changes were enough to noticeably tidy up its act. Visually, the series can be picked by the blacked-out grille on the 500 and the black strips running under the doors.
Con inherited the Ford when his father passed away, back in 1992. “I found I difficult to drive,” he admits, given the fresh memories, and traded it on another more upmarket Falcon.
The dealer wanted Con’s car for his daughter, but changed his mind when he discovered she wasn’t happy with the lack of power steering. So it went on the lot. Con meanwhile had a change of heart and went back and ‘rescued’ the car.
It’s been through some cosmetic changes over the years, at one stage running the dual headlamp grille (it seems every 500 owner had to have one), a GXL dash, along with 12-slotter wheels and a lowered stance. In too went a centre console along with a conversion to a T-bar auto shifter. However one day Con tripped over a stocker in a shopping centre carpark, liked what he saw and took his own back to original.
That turned out to be a fair bit of work, particularly returning it to the steering column-mounted shift. Along the way he also gave the body a freshen-up, plus a ‘blow-over’ paint job with the help of George at Euro Car Crash Repairs.
What do you look for in an XC? “Don’t get me wrong,” says, Con, “I love them but they attract rust.
“Look for rust in the lower doors inside around the rubbers and on the outer skins, down the top edges of the boot and around the sealing rubber.” He also points to the lower rear of the front guards, and in the plenum chamber. That last one is prone to collecting leaves, and then water, and then rust holes that dump water on an unwary occupant’s feet.
“The motors are indestructible – believe me I know from experience – but the Borg Warner 35 automatic is only so-so. The engines like fresh oil and if you hear a tappet noise, it should go away after a few seconds as the hydraulic lifters clear. If it doesn’t you might be up for a cam and lifters.”
He says the usual chassis areas such as upper ball joints and idler arms should also be checked over – the same goes for the Kingswood, though for them it’s the lower ball joints that take the stress and suffer wear. It may have been a sometimes strange journey, but you can tell Con has a real affection for this car. It was there when he learned to drive, he delivered pizzas in it, and it’s even experienced a little fame. “I knew the owner of a service station they used in the filming of the first Underbelly series,” he says, “And he was rounding up old cars for the show.” So the Falcon got its 15 seconds of fame.
No wonder he’s attached to it.
WORDS CLIFF CHAMBERS
fall I could say in support the CM Valiant’s inclusion was that they don’t terrify me in the way a VH-VK does, that would probably be enough. This wasn’t just the last gasp of a doomed design, the CM transformed a wallowing vehicle into a bloody good car. Only problem; it turned up five years too late.
The 4.3-litre, 265 cubic inch motor was the best Aussie six of its era. Even in 4.0-litre form it was a powerful and very durable and made all the better by ‘Electronic Lean Burn’ technology. Improved suspension was introduced right towards the end of CL production but so few of those cars survive you might as well deem Chrysler’s take on ‘radial tuned’ suspension a CM feature.
Chrysler at the time was tipping every developmental dollar into the hugely successful Sigma and about all the CM had to distinguish itself was a new grille and some bits of amended bright-work. Delve deeper though and you found quartz-halogen headlamps – four of them even on the base model – and wider ‘sports’ wheels to accommodate chunky radial rubber.
Assuming you can find one, the CM to hunt down is a GLX with four-speed manual transmission. Not quite a supercar but certainly a high-grade ‘sports sedan’ with definite collector chops.
In the absence of a GLX look for a Regal or even the sumptuous SE. These with 4.3 litres cost a little less than 4.2-litre HZ Premiers but you win out on fuel economy and interior space. Watch for rust.
WORDS GUY ALLEN
I fever you needed proof that the hot hatch is anything but a new idea, this is it. The KE series turbo Laser was a serious performer for its day, with the intercooled unit boosting performance to a claimed 100kW versus 61 forthe normally-aspirated unit. Throw in 4WD and you had something that hung on like the proverbial limpet, particularly in slick conditions and gave you a real sense of confidence on a backroad.
Ironically the extra weight of the four-paw drive meant the front-wheel-drive turbo was lighter and marginally quicker in a straight line and had less mechanical woes as it aged.
That said, the 4WD was still the hero model and by far your biggest challenge these days will be finding one that isn’t a complete basket case. The engines on these things are famously strong, though the five-speed transmission on the 4WDs could develop dramas if used hard over a long time. Angelo, our resident Laser nut, reckons the biggest hassle for the restorer could be the internal trim which is hard to find and becomes brittle with age.
You’d also want to carefully check out the drive line and underpinnings, including the adjustable ride height fittings.
We can’t say you’ll ever retire rich on the proceeds of one of these things, and it won’t be easy to find a car that would cost far more than it’s worth to get back into shape.
But find the right one and you’ll be rewarded with a fun little car that will turn a surprising number of heads.
WORDS DAVE MORLEY
I’m not gonna sugar-coat this; the Nissan Skyline R31 is not the prettiest car I’ve ever clapped eyes on. In fact, from most angles, it’s downright homely. But maybe that’s part of the attraction: It certainly stands out from the pack. And when somebody makes the big list of locally-made cars that were worth a damn, I’m tipping the R31 is somewhere in the top half.
Despite the garden-shed aerodynamics, these were great cars and arguably the best handling big Aussie four-door you could buy at the time. They would sure as hell show a Falcon (XF) or Commodore (VL) the door back in the day, provided there were a few corners.
The injected Nissan six was a real sweetie and while it didn’t rev particularly hard, it didn’t need to with plenty of shove from relatively low in the revs and the sort of smoothness that would have had an XF Falcon owner checking the tacho to make sure the thing hadn’t stalled. And yes, it had a tacho.
The Silhouette version was a bit more of the same with a body kit, some iffy alloys and the classier interior including the six-gauge cluster. And a limited-slip diff which suddenly made it a pretty quick point-to-point car. Any hey, while we’re not big fans of plastic 80s body kits, at least when you were starting with something this dowdy, you couldn’t really go backwards.
The catch now is finding a manual one that hasn’t been fitted with longer lower control arms, a locked diff and been skidded to death by little suburban grubs with neck tatts. But if you do, my advice is to buy it and keep it safe. And drive the wheels off it at every opportunity.
WORDS DAVE MORLEY
Okay, let’s make this clear: I’m not talking about any old E30 318i. Nope, what we’re dealing with here is the very late E30 with the M40 engine with its 103kW and much better overall performance than the previous 318i. Not that there’s anything fatally flawed about the earlier car, but the DOHC M40 was just a better mousetrap. Oh sure, everybody wants a straight-six E30, and I get that: BMW’s inline sixes are legendary for good reason. But they’re also more expensive, even when you’re going back the 25 or 30 years to qualify for club rego. And besides, with the lighter, shorter four-cylinder placing less mass over and in front of the front axle, you wind up with a nicer steering car into the bargain.
The one to find now is a two-door in a good colour (Although champagne was always popular. Go figure.) and many of them had power sunroofs which is nice since the ventilation is typically 80s standard and the air-con probably won’t work worth a darn these days. There were a few without the sunroof option, but most of them have been turned into race-cars by now.
And that’s kind of the point: The E30 was such a sweet car with its independent rear end and tactile rack-and-pinion front end, that it made for a great performance car. And now they’re a great budget performance car.
The biggest glitch is that with the four-cylinder engine and the relatively hefty 1300kg weighbridge ticket, they aren’t gonna be fast in a straight line. So do the smart thing, and go home along the winding back road.
WORDS ROB BLACKBOURN
It’s not because it’s très chic or even magnifique that a little Peugeot 205 GTI catches your eye. This potent little hatch’s Gallic appeal is based on how well the sporty body kit complements the car’s basic styling, creating a car with an assertive stance that oozes attitude. It sits low, with fat-tyred ‘pepper-pot’ alloys peeping out from wheel-arch extensions at each corner, robust bodyprotection mouldings linking front and rear bumpers, and under-bumper fog lights completing the performance picture.
Stuffing the lively Bosch Jetronic injected 1.9-litre SOHC four and sweet-shifting five-speed gearbox into an engine compartment that first housed engines under 1400cc makes access for anything other than basic maintenance challenging, but it fills the space and looks tough.
On the road the 205 GTI is a joy to drive – fast, agile and responsive to all driver inputs, handling more like a go kart than a hatch with room for four. The steering is heavy on pre-1991 models thanks to a lack of power steering, particularly when parking, but dead accurate in the twisties. At its best when driven assertively, it corners as if on rails, with the caveat that as a pure front-wheel-drive car you need to keep the power on through the tight stuff. Mid-corner back-offs risk big-time spins.
As with all hotties try to avoid thrashed examples. Add points for one with good service records. While 205s are tough and durable overall, driver’s seats are prone to wear on side bolsters and matching cloth is scarce.
Engines tend to burn oil, but the remedies are well understood. A fresh cam belt (and water pump while you’re at it) is the best way to consummate your relationship with your sexy new French companion.
WORDS CLIFF CHAMBERS
I know that chromium as sourced from the wilds of Africa is scarce and expensive but who would think that a few ounces when used as automotive embellishment could double the value of a 1970s Chevrolet Corvette.
You might think that in 1974 when Chevrolet changed its ’Vette from chrome bumper to all fibreglass, buyers hated the bland design and sales plummeted. No, they didn’t. Even though the evocative chromium plate was gone and performance blunted by ‘smog’ controls, more and more Americans decided that they still wanted a Corvette.
By 1978 when the shape changed to incorporate a larger wrap-around rear window production topped 46,000 a year, peaking in 1979 at almost 54,000. C3 production ended in 1982 and cars from that year are the only ones to incorporate a factory-fitted rear hatch.
So why do buyers today so often ignore post-1977 cars and why can you buy a very decent ’Vette of this vintage at less than our $30,000 spending cap?
Leaving aside the shame of being denied entry to ‘chrome bumper’ car shows, there’s the issue of perceived performance. 1970s Corvettes all included various versions of Chevrolet’s 5.7-litre engine in their line-up but by 1979, claimed output had dwindled from 190kW in 1973 to 145kW.
Lots of Corvettes came to Australia as new cars and were converted to right-hand drive. Before deciding on a specific car, drive both versions. Older RHD adaptations can suffer durability issues, not to mention the effect on handling and stability. You should also save some money.
WORDS MARK HIGGINS
Despite winning Wheels Car of the Year in 1973, the P76 was as popular as the plague.
Touted as a rival for the Falcon, Kingswood and Valiant the P76 lasted for two years and a total production run of 18,000 units before being killed off. It was a financial disaster for the already cash-strapped Leyland Australia, which shut shortly after.
The timing of the P76 launch couldn’t have been worse; smack in the middle of the first oil crisis when fuel prices skyrocketed, killing demand for all large cars. Add to this poor quality and parts shortages.
Though the P76 did receive favourable press reaction it didn’t capture the buying public.
With looks only its designer could like, the P76 did have its virtues. A huge boot, said famously to be big enough for a 44-gallon drum, and acres of interior space.
Safety-wise it was ahead of the game with power-assisted brakes, the front being discs, recessed door handles and full-length side intrusion reinforcements on all doors, before they became compulsory. It also featured rack and pinion steering, MacPherson strut front suspension, a front hinged bonnet, glued-in windscreen and concealed windscreen wipers.
Three models made up the range, the Deluxe, Super and top-line Executive. The base model got a 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine from the Austin Kimberley and Tasman, but the engine to have was the 4.4-litre alloy V8.
This engine was developed for racing by Phil Irving (legendary Australian – Repco and Vincent engineer) who had been working on the Leyland F5000 engine for Repco and resulted in South Australian McCormack winning a Gold star title in the late ’70s in his McLaren.
Not many P76s exist these days and any V8 model is the one to have, though snagging a manual would be a real bonus.
WORDS MARK HIGGINS
When turbocharging engines became the rage in the early 80s, Mitsubishi was ‘Johnny on the spot’ with its angular 2+2 GT Starion coupe.
It wasn’t with us for long, just five years from 1982 to 1987 (JA1982-84, JB 84-85 & JD 85-87)and didn’t sell in huge quantities, but was considered ahead of its time in some ways with its single turbocharger bolted to an electronically fuel-injected 2-litre single-cam engine producing 125kW and 245Nm.
The Starion’s rear-drive platform included MacPherson struts up front and a four-link independent, coil-sprung rear plus an optional limited-slip differential that together endowed it with a sense of sporty handling. It also had disc brakes at both ends but the package was let down by its vague recirculating-ball steering.
The angular theme infiltrated the interior which was considered bland and the colour-coded plastics brittle and shiny. It also lacked much room for rear seat dwellers, but was comfy enough up front. A novelty was the door-mounted seatbelts.
Coinciding with the arrival of the Starion was a resurgence in production car racing and it was in this arena that the blown Mitsubishi shone.
Race ace Kevin Bartlett led Mitsubishi’s first Bathurst assault in 1984 followed by the Australian Touring Car championship in 1985. Bartlett once claimed that given the budget and development time, the Starion could have been a genuine rival to the Ford Sierra Cosworth.
In the era of Group A touring cars the Starion placed fifth outright at Bathurst in 1987 and scooped up the Australian production car title the same year.
The urban myth has the name Starion as a Japlish attempt at the word Stallion. Not so, say Mitsubishi folk, who claim the name blended the words “Star” and “Orion”.
OKAY, SO WE’VE HAD THE TOP-TEN RUN-DOWN ON CLUB CARS FOR UP TO $30K. WHAT WOULD OUR FEARLESS STAFFERS BUY? BRACE YOURSELF, THIS COULD GET UGLY...
The SVD GTS versions are getting out of reach, but the Silhouette is absolutely next best. The big catch is finding one that hasn’t been turned into a skid-pig.
These were a specifically Australian deal and they rocked in the day. They’re still good fun now, too, and while they no longer rate as actually fast, they’re hugely entertaining.
I’m no huge fan of the Corvette generally, but you can’t ignore the brutal look of a C3. At this money, it’ll be a small-block and left-hook, but there’s a surprising amount of choice out there.
Everybody wants a six-pot E30, but these later 318is got the better M40 engine that powered the E36. Find a manual two-door, lower it, add BBS rims and you’ll have a proper driver’s car.
Overlooked for too long, the long-wheelbase XA/XBs are seriously cool these days. Plush interiors and swingin’ hips make for great cruisers.
Nearest it can be to an M3 without being one, yet good cars are still affordable.
Iconic American sports car, serious performance for not much money and sounds sooo good.
Rates as a ‘classic’ but still viable as comfortable, stylish transport that costs nothing to maintain.
Massive engineering advance over earlier Jaguars and a shape that has aged with extreme grace.
Design that forced every other local manufacturer to lift their game and an engine with so much potential.
So competent, so involving to drive; the only question is why Nissan didn’t tell Freddy to make 500.
It has two doors, it has no roof, it’s a Benz and like a Grange, Herman the German is going to appreciate in value and stature.
Showed the Chermans they didn’t have a monopoly on hot hatches and was a hoot to drive.
Nissan spent their bucks on making it go and handle, not on its looks, but it was sublime behind the wheel thanks to the extensive input by Jim Richards and Mark Skaife.
Honda’s high-revving sportster is like a Jack Russell, willing to pick a fight (and usually win) against far more powerful opponents.
It’ll frustrate the crap outta you with its poor reliability, but on the rare occasion all the bits keep on keeping on, it will charm the pants off you.
Great attractive cruiser with a local link. Looks like a ZC/ZD on steroids minus the price.
Mid 80s icon with the most class and a digital dash! HDT Group As have skyrocketed in price and this is more affordable with what I reckon is definitely a desirable shape.
Limited numbers were offered here in Australia. Absolutely a desirable retro hot hatch, but good luck finding one!
Great-looking cars that disappeared out of sight. A TG ZZ/Z turned heads when modified Geminis were a ‘scene’. Their only real concession to performance (other than the fancy graphics and trim) was a five-speed manual, but can you imagine owning one today?
Talk about futuristic design, these don’t look out of place next to a Delorean but are yet to soar in price.
This is the twin stacked headlights era and I just love the lines of the hardtops in particular. There’s one for sale right now on our site…
Practicing what I preach here – I’ve owned two. Stylish with decent dynamics, a good one (get a manual) is a great touring car.
Call me a sentimental fool (I’ve been called worse…) but I’d love a Triumph sports car to go with the three Triumph motorcycles in the shed. What could possibly go wrong?
The quintessential sports car for the masses, I reckon this is on the bucket list of toys to have – even just for a while.
I’m with Higgins on this. Get the right R107 (they can be trouble…) and you’d have a fantastic soft-top cruiser that should hold its value well.
HAVEN’T GOT 30 GRAND TO THROW AROUND? NEVER FEAR. OUR RESIDENT SHED-DWELLER AND VALUE CLASSIC HUNTER GLENN TORRENS HAS SOME ANSWERS.
Regular readers will know I’m a nut for the silly little rounded rear-engined German-designed air-cooled dak-daks: Sure, my yellow Bugs are motorsport weekend warriors but a good standard-ish Bug can be a delightfully more modest and mellow Cars & Coffee cruiser, too. With a pleasant personality all its own and more than 22 million made and sold in every country on the planet, the Beetle is a world reknowned classic car with formidable knowledge/info and spare parts backup. If you ask me, it’s the easiest classic car in the world to own…. I own a couple of less-molested road versions too: ignoring the wailings of the fashionistas, my choice is the 1971-75 Super Beetle models – the later, the better - for their better driveability and performance than the pre-1968 lay-back-headlight models.
Most Unique Cars magazine readers will have memories – good or bad – of Holden’s ground-breaking ‘Big New V6 Commodore’ of 1988. For the older car nuts, this was probably a company/fleet car when you were a Junior Account Manager or a probationary constable. If you’re 30-something, you may have had one as a cheap P-plate projectile. The 5.0-litre fuel injected V8s – optional on all models, and exclusive power in the born-again SS – arrived in mid-1989. As with any other popular Aussie, sheer weight of numbers means there’s plenty of lessthan-pristine examples to weigh down people’s opinions but find a good one and it’s a keeper. I have - I will enjoy my V8 Calais forever.
It’s too late to shut the gate on the premium (SL/E and Calais) and performance model first-gen Commodores – but how many of us have happy holiday memories of a Commodore wagon? My dad never had one - he bought a 1981 VH SL sedan in 1984 – but I always cast an envious glance toward the Commodore SL/X and Vacationer wagons in the beach carparks when I was a young teen. Few could dismiss the allure of a V8 wagon! Rock up to a Cars & Coffee in an extremely tidy wagon – six or V8, on original wheels - and you’ll pull just as much respect and have just as much fun (in fact probably more) as the bloke with the Brock-a-dore. And yes, I’ve already got mine…
These are not quite eligible for H-plates in NSW and some other states yet, but those remaining from the first boatload of Aussie delivered cars sold in ’89 – and a gaggle of Japanese-market Eunos imports that have arrived since - will be queued outside motor registries in early January next year for their H-plates. Even if you are besotted by clunky chrome-bumper Aussie classics, take one of these for a spin. That chassis, the drop-top and that willing little engine… truly one of the greatest cars ever created. I already have mine.
Chintzy trim, fast glass, ciggy lighters in the door trims, injected engine and digital dash. Yes please!
I’ve just sold my Sigma SE sedan but a Scorpion is on the list of cars I’d like to own. A real head-turner… who cares if it’s not fast?
Lots of performance and fun, though finding a viable car anywhere in coo-ee of this budget takes patience and a little luck. Still, they do come up.